Having been lucky enough to be present at both the occupation of the Capitol building in Madison, WI earlier this year as well as the current protests of #occupywallstreet, I have been struck by a disconnect between what is by now a kind of natural anarchism for the proceedings of left-wing grassroots protests and the inability of the media to understand that this is what they are seeing. The spokescouncil/general assembly format, the consensus process, the “people’s microphone,” the spontaneous formation of committees to administer meals and first aid and gather trash, the resolute leaderlessness, and the refusal to tie demands to the short-term interests of the political parties have characterized American “occupation” protest in 2011 just as they characterized anti-corporate-globalization protest in 2001. The protesters have said that that they are inspired by the Arab Spring, and the media catches on to this, but even among more sympathetic commentators all these qualities are attributed to the membership of the youthful protesters in the “internet generation,” or else to their innocence and naïveté. The Occupied Wall Street Journal, however, explicitly describes the General Assembly as a “horizontal, autonomous, leaderless, modified-consensus-based system with roots in anarchist thought”—a long tradition stretching back to the earliest Enlightenment origins of liberatory politics. I wonder if it’s not that the internet generation has innovated a form of political participation appropriate to its experience, but rather that it has asserted that a very old idea’s time has finally come. The question now is whether mainstream liberal interest groups will be able to re-integrate the floating, non-specific, yet radical dissent of #occupywallstreet into the traditional discourses of campaigns and legislation, as they usually do—or whether times really have changed.


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